Saint-Denis is the administrative capital of Réunion, and the most populous commune among all French overseas departments with a population of 150,000. Nearby Saint-Marie has a population of around 40,000. Saint-Paul has an estimated population of 105,000, followed by Saint-Pierre at 80,000.
Réunion has great ethnic diversity, with groups of African, Indian, Malagasy, Chinese and European descent. All ethnic groups are from immigrants who came to the island from Africa, Asia and Europe over the last three hundred years, and there are no indigenous people. These groups married together very early, and the population today is mostly of mixed race.
The number of each ethnicity is unknown, as France bans ethnic censuses. Estimates place the white population at 25%, with Indians accounting for 25% and those of Chinese ancestry accounting for 3%. Those of Gujarati and South Indian origin account for the majority of Indians on Réunion. Creoles, which refers to people born on the island, regardless of ethnic identity, account for the majority of the population.
The most common religion is Roman Catholicism, although many also practice Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Chinese folk religion.
Réunion has little recorded history before the Portuguese arrived in the 15th century, although it was familiar to Arab traders. The arrival of Portuguese explorers in 1507 was the first European contact with the area, and it was uninhabited at the time. The island was named Santa Apolonia and remained untouched for about 100 years. It was then occupied and claimed for France in 1642, when Jacques Pronis deported French mutineers to the island. The convicts were later returned to France and the island was named Île Bourbon in 1649.
The name of Réunion was given in 1793, although it was temporarily named in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1801, and then again renamed Bourbon until the French Revolution of 1848.
From the 17th through the 19th century, French immigration, as well as an influx of African, Chinese and Indian immigrants, gave the island an ethnic mix. Most of the immigrants from outside of Europe were slaves prior to 1848, and then many were indentured workers afterward.
Between 1968 and 1982, about 1,600 children from the island were relocated to France. Réunion exile Jean-Jacques Martial brought legal action against a politician in 2002 for kidnapping and deportation of minors.